Manila Conference on Labour Migration 2015

Publicado: 18 mayo 2015

(Focus on the Most Vulnerable: Women Household Service Workers)

Manila, 12-13 May 2015

Panel “Human Face of Migration”


Director General, Mr Tissa Abeywickrama, Sri Lanka Red Cross Society

Moderator: Divya Gopalan, journalist

Speech by Sue Le Mesurier : Global Advisor on Migration

Mr Chairman, Red Cross and Red Crescent representatives, ladies and gentlemen.  I thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak on this timely and critical issue. I would like to thank Chairman Gordon in particular for organizing this meeting, and the volunteers and staff of the Philippines Red Cross

•           So what does a ‘human face’ of migration mean for us as a Movement and for other friends in this room?

Do we actually look at and acknowledge the migrant workers who  serve our morning coffee in the café, mend our shoes, fix the plumbing, teach the children, and many other tasks that we are often blind to. Many of the most vulnerable female migrant workers are hidden from our eyes, locked in domestic servitude, living on the shadows of our societies.

It is obvious that around the world people are on the move – including women who have been subject to violence in their home country, whilst on their perilous journeys and when they eventually arrive at their destination they are again subject to violence and exploitation.

As a Movement we aim to protect these people, and give them not only a name and a face but also a voice.

We want to work with you all to promote in our communities social inclusion and a culture of nonviolence and peace, this includes opportunities for inter-cultural dialogue, respect for diversity, education and migration.

Many National Societies working with female domestic labour migrants are actively countering social prejudice, and encouraging tolerance and respect for the many different perspectives that are to be expected in an ever increasing diverse world.

As a Movement we discrimination and intolerance towards female and male labour migrants as a refusal to accept the other’s differences, often based on fear or ignorance. Awareness, questioning and critical self-reflection can help break conditioning or correct bias learned through schooling, media and upbringing. We therefore view values and skills based education as a key tool to foster responsible and ethical leadership in children and youth. National Societies from around the world have developed cultural awareness programmes and sports, arts and other creative methodologies in formal and non-formal education as well as community activities which bring people together. We are an organisation which is all about diversity and bringing people together.

IFRC is also strongly engaged in inspiring change of attitudes and behaviour through  youth leadership, as we believe youth, including migrant youth, girls and boys all have a major role to play in shaping a new world of living harmoniously together. Youth as Agents of Behavioural Change (YABC) is one example of an IFRC programme that equips young people globally with skills to role model constructive dialogue and bring a human face to this dialogue in their local community.

•           The importance of the correct terminology

Today the migration dialogue is a very dynamic debate that is putting a pressure on our language and we have been advocating for the language on migration in the media to change. We need to ensure migrants have a voice and that the media tell stories in a way that everyone can hear them.  In addition, the political dialogue is changing and we need to offer options to the negative concepts of ‘illegal’, ‘unauthorized’, and ‘alien’ to the correct terms of asylum seeker, refugee, economic migrant, undocumented, irregular or migrants in irregular situations which better help understand the complexity of migration.

The continued use of the stereotype and negative reporting is significantly damaging and perpetuates misunderstanding and xenophobia by constructing a misleading discursive figure under the concept of the faceless  ‘migrant’….. a ‘non-person’.

Labels such as “illegal migrants” should be absolutely avoided as it legitimates discourse on criminalization of migration and contributes to feelings of racism and xenophobia against migrants in our societies.

To combat these negative attitudes toward migrants it is therefore important to examine how female labour migrants are represented in the media.  The media have a responsibility for the choices they make. Given the ability of the media to influence public opinion, it is essential for journalists to fully understand the subject they cover as well as the audience they are talking to, in order to guarantee the most accurate, balanced and informative reporting possible. 

Changing the way people speak about migrants can change the way they think.  For the necessary changes in migration coverage to occur, the media as a whole has a significant role to play. This requires journalists and editors alike to pay close attention to how they understand and use the information acquired and the terminology they use.

•           Red Cross Red Crescent Responses

Recognising our global role in working with vulnerable migrants we have been working with a range of media, governments, UN and other agencies to cultivate inter-cultural dialogue and respect for diversity in the fields of education and migration. Recent examples include:

a.         UK Dispatches Research and Conference 2013

Dispatches UK initiative , reveals new research about how refugees are depicted in the press. The research shows how news stories about refugees and asylum seekers continue to be overwhelmingly negative, despite a significant fall in asylum claims in the last decade, and rarely give a voice to refugees themselves. Early findings from the research show confusion among the public about what makes refugees and asylum seekers different from other migrants. The findings also reveal the phrases people most associate with newspaper coverage of them are ‘illegal immigrants’ and ‘scroungers’.

b.         The New Times project DENMARK

Fifteen years ago, asylum seekers and refugees started to publish, on a regular basis, a leaflet with articles written by asylum seekers and refugees themselves. The DRC developed this leaflet into a small newspaper and published it on a regular basis. The DRC delivers the newspaper in its reception centres, in cafés, schools,  ministries and journalists who sometimes include articles in the ‘mainstream’ Medias. The newspaper provides information on asylum seekers, asylum procedure, e migration trails and journeys and information on Danish society provided by migrants.

b.         Positive Images Campaign

Positive Images employed a diverse range of communication methods for engaging young people including youth-led empathy-building activities such as role playing and creative activities. A key strength of the project is that at least half of the Positive Images volunteer teams are from migrant backgrounds. As a result, Positive Images enables young people to learn directly from migrants’ own experiences, whilst offering volunteers the chance to build their confidence, communication and youth work skills. As one volunteer reflected; “We’re out there, teaching young people about migration, changing perceptions. It’s very motivating.” Positive Images has enabled the Red Cross to reach out through various media avenues to thousands of young people across the EU.

In conclusion:

Human migration is a fundamental part of the human condition, and migrants, including female labour migrants,  will continue to take hazardous journeys where they have no other options; they will continue to put their lives at risk despite all efforts to stop them. We, the Red Cross Movement in partnership with others, need to do more to ensure safe journeys and safe destinations, for all migrants not only on the Mediterranean Sea but globally along the migration journey.

Much more needs to be done to give a human face to migration as 230 plus million people are on the move. We need to do more to reach out to the families and communities left behind (often the young, disabled and elderly unable to move), we need to name a stranger and have her safely tell us her story, we need to stop talking about numbers and start talking about people, people like you and me.

As a global organisation we need to do more to secure practical safeguards with regard to the human rights of all migrants - these should not only be guaranteed but must be resourced and properly implemented.

To say that the issues surrounding vulnerable labour migrants are complex, is an understatement. There are no easy answers, as all of you in this room know too well.

The Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, however pledges that through important meetings such as this and our extensive global network we will continue to work together to come up with solutions to these seemingly intractable problems.... because we must do more than talk. We must act.

As humanitarians, we owe it to the thousands of female migrant workers  who, during the time it took me to give this speech, set off on a dangerous and unpredictable journey towards the unknown.

Thank you